University of Maine at Farmington women’s basketball seniors Kari Simpson, Karen Sirois and Megan Boyd have accomplished almost everything within reach during their four years on the hardwood.

Simpson will leave Farmington as the leading scorer in school history. Nobody has dished out more assists than Sirois, who also crossed the 1,000-point threshold. The Beavers boast four consecutive 20-win seasons and 92 victories in all, making the soon-to-be graduating class the most prolific in UMF history.

What’s left? At least one victory in the NCAA Division III tournament would make the perfect prize. UMF (25-3) receives an opportunity for the second straight season when it meets Brandeis (19-5) at 5:30 p.m. tonight in a first-round clash of nationally ranked opponents at Emmanuel College in Boston.

“We know that our conference from top to bottom is not as strong as some others in the country,” said UMF coach Jamie Beaudoin. “It’s our second straight trip to the NCAA tournament, and we know to earn respect throughout the country we need to get a win. It would mean a lot to our players and our program.”

UMF lost to Norwich, 76-63, at the University of Southern Maine in last year’s opening round.

No. 24 Farmington captured the North Atlantic Conference championship and the league’s automatic tournament bid for the second straight year with a 61-58 victory last weekend over Maine Maritime Academy. It was the Beavers’ third triumph this winter over the Mariners, who are the only team to knock off No. 1 Bowdoin College.

Those results earned some national attention for UMF, but the team still faces the perception that it is a juggernaut in a top-heavy league and a notch beneath Maine’s “big three” of Division III women’s hoop. Farmington carries an 18-game winning streak into the tourney after non-conference losses to Southern Maine, Bates and Bowdoin.

“Maine Maritime’s win was great for us. People saw that they beat Bowdoin, and they looked at their schedule and saw that they had three losses to Farmington,” Beaudoin said. “But if you look at (the New England teams in) next year’s preseason top 25, it will be all the teams that you traditionally see in the top 25. It’ll be USM, Bowdoin and Brandeis.”

Two players that are a lock for any mythical all-time team at UMF will try to extend their careers this weekend.

Simpson is a multi-dimensional, six-foot forward from Wells. She averages 15.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game but also has 3-point shooting range. Sirois, a graduate of the storied Cony High School program, serves up an all-around game at point guard to the tune of 12 points, 4.6 assists and 4.5 rebounds.

That tandem has thrived with the addition of first-year forward Caitlyn Laflin (14.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg) to a starting lineup that also features sophomores Erin Porter and Amanda Byrne.

“She was very effective in our biggest games,” Beaudoin said of Laflin. “She plays hard. She bought into our style right away.”

That style is end-to-end defense that limited opponents to 51 points per game while forcing an average of 24 turnovers.

How much that harassment will bother No. 15 Brandeis remains to be seen. The Judges are one of four nationally ranked tournament teams from the University Athletic Association, joining longtime power Washington University of St. Louis, New York University and Rochester.

“They probably play in the best conference in the country,” Beaudoin said. “They have five losses, all to top-25 teams. They’re big, they’re strong and they’re physical.”

Two-time All-American and Brandeis’ all-time leading scorer Caitlin Malcolm (11.3 ppg, 6 rpg) leads the Judges, who picked up their first-ever NCAA tournament victory last season with a 61-56 victory over Salem State. Junior guard Jaime Capra averaged 15 points per game and is a 36 percent 3-point shooter.

Tonight’s winner will meet the Emmanuel-Salve Regina survivor on Saturday for a berth in next weekend’s Sweet 16.

The other three Maine representatives begin NCAA play tonight closer to home. Bowdoin meets Mount Holyoke and Maine Maritime confronts Keene State in the Brunswick sub-regional. USM hosts Williams.


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